AN AMERICAN SUMMER

Frank Deford, Author . Sourcebooks Landmark $24 (256p) ISBN 978-1-57071-992-9

Anyone who remembers the fearful summers before the Salk vaccine wiped out polio will relate to Deford's novel of the 1950s. Those who warm to stories in which appealing teenagers come of age will also find resonance here. The narrator, 14-year-old Christy Bannister, recently transplanted from Terre Haute, Ind., to Baltimore, rescues a lost dog from danger, then meets its owner, 23-year-old Kathryn Slade, a victim of polio, who is kept alive by an iron lung. Christy is having a tough time adjusting to his new surroundings, both in making new friends and in dealing with ethical problems involving his father, who is having an affair and also being blackmailed by his company's owner into firing a longtime employee. Kathryn provides the example he needs; she is cheerful and lives life as fully as her handicap allows. A serious swimmer before her illness, Kathryn offers to coach Christy in her pool, so he can compete in the annual Labor Day extravaganza. Christy has seen home movies of Kathryn when she was his age, and it's not difficult for him to imagine her as his girlfriend. They fulfill each other's needs as Kathryn requires a project to take her mind off her condition, while Christy desperately needs a friend and mentor. A subplot about Christy's 17-year-old sister, Sue, who is raped by a neighbor, serves more to demonstrate the mores of the 1950s than to enhance the plot. Still, Deford (The Other Adonis) manages to twang the heart strings without being maudlin or sentimental, while delivering two memorable characters. (Sept. 2)

Forecast:An easy read for a day at the beach, this simply written story could also qualify as a bridge book for young adults. Sourcebooks plans a 35,000 first printing and six-city author tour.

Reviewed on: 07/01/2002
Release date: 09/01/2002
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